One of the great benefits of Brightspace is that it works to fit the way you work. We were able to very quickly add in the building blocks we needed to transform into a 100% virtual schooling platform.Mark Deans, Deputy Headteacher, West Bridgford School
The Right Preparation
In anticipation of school closures, WBS assessed what it would need to do to maintain continuity of learning while students and teachers were at home. The challenge was considerable: lesson plans and timetables would have to be adjusted for a fully online environment, students would be asked to adapt to a whole new school day, and teachers – themselves at home with many juggling childcare and home life demands – would need to integrate new tools into their delivery of teaching.
To get ahead, WBS determined two priorities. Firstly, expand the range of Brightspace tools to enable a more complete teaching and learning environment and secondly, implement staff training.
“Brightspace is built in a series of building blocks where you can add bits on,” says Mark Deans, Deputy Headteacher, West Bridgford School. “We already knew about the Virtual Classrooms tool, the Video Assignments tool and a whole range of functionality that we could bring in very quickly. We’ve got a very good relationship with our Brightspace team and their flexibility and responsiveness meant that in the days we had before lockdown, we could train all of our staff.”
In fact, over 100 staff were trained in a short space of time to equip them with the tools and knowledge they’d need to be effective in the coming weeks. “We used the Virtual Classrooms tool to run the training sessions,” explains Mark. “The level of staff engagement was fantastic. We had sessions on discussion forums and using rubrics; we covered methodologies for taking in work and generating feedback on it and producing multiple-choice quizzes efficiently to minimise staff workload.”
The Virtual Classroom
After a week of preparation and staff training, WBS rolled out lessons, starting with students in years 10 and 12 working towards final exams in 2021. Class timings were adjusted from an hour to 45-50 minutes and delivered online.
“Students were taught live, in their usual groups, by their regular teachers,” says Mark. “They submitted coursework and received written feedback; video feedback too.”
For years 7, 8 and 9, larger groups of up to 60 students attended lessons that launched a week’s worth of learning. “It was a two-week cycle,” explains Mark. “Lesson one set the tasks and targets, established where students needed to get to over the next four days and the work they needed to submit. Students used discussions and breakout rooms to interact, then the second lesson was a drop-in session where students could ask questions and give feedback. It was fully interactive with teachers sharing work on-screen, even adding additional materials. Brightspace would send out links afterwards so students could access the content.”
Recognising that students would miss contact, the school was determined to maintain its high standard of pastoral care and support by delivering more than just a curriculum. Video assemblies helped establish important lines of contact while ‘bridging materials’ were provided to years 11 and 13 – the important transition years from GCSE to A-level and A-level to post-school. Weekly drop-in lessons gave year 11 students A-level subject ‘tasters’ during which they not only met the members of staff who would be teaching them, but also other students considering the subject who would be their classmates.
The Brightspace team worked with WBS to add bespoke users to the platform and assign them to courses. This enabled the school to also offer study skills content to external year 11s joining the Sixth Form from other schools.
Before, we had staff skilled in specific parts of the platform. Now, we have staff who are very skilled in online learning because Brightspace isn’t constraining, it actually opens up possibilities.Mark Deans, Deputy Headteacher, West Bridgford School
A Creative And Varied Learning Environment
The functionality and adaptability of Brightspace enabled WBS to meet its objectives in rapidly migrating lessons online and continuing to provide a stimulating learning environment. The platform supported high levels of student logins, students engaged well with a variety of tasks and the school received positive feedback from parents.
“Brightspace enabled us to run a virtual school and we had excellent engagement, with students attending lessons, taking part in conversations and using discussion forums,” says Mark.
Variety in the tasks set helped the school maintain student engagement as Mark explains: “The Modern Foreign Languages department used the Video Assignments tool. Students cooking for their parents created videos of themselves describing what they were doing, in the language they were learning. We managed to keep engagement high by using the opportunities that virtual learning can give.”
Mark was delighted that even teachers who previously viewed technology as a barrier, embraced the transition, citing the live engagement they were still able to have with students as central to bringing them on board.
Despite the difficulties, the situation has raised skills levels with Mark saying: “Before, we had staff skilled in specific parts of the platform. Now, we have staff who are very skilled in online learning because Brightspace isn’t constraining, it actually opens up possibilities. Central to the success of our rapid move to 100% online learning was having a team of staff fully committed to providing the best possible educational experience to their students during lockdown. The beauty of Brightspace is its ability to leverage the individual skills and personalities of the teachers, thus maintaining their personal relationship with the students.”
WBS never underestimates the importance of a strong partnership with parents and was delighted at how positively they viewed the school’s handling of the challenge. The school sent out parent and student feedback questionnaires every fortnight and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
Looking ahead, WBS sees opportunities in the material it’s built up and the approach it adopted during testing times. The study skills programme for year 11s bridging the gap from GCSE to A-level will be recorded for use next year and beyond.
“We can flex Brightspace to a point where the content, assessments and grading criteria will be all set up ready for whatever the new normal ends up being, come September,” adds Mark. “This process would have been completely different if we weren’t a school that uses Brightspace. It gives you greater inspiration to do over and above, because of it we were able to deliver a proper, virtual school experience and give a fantastic service.”